Memorandum by the Secretary of State of a Conference With the Japanese Ambassador on Special Mission (Ishii), September 22, 1917

Viscount Ishii called at 3:00 p. m. by appointment, and after some preliminary remarks he introduced the subject of the “Open Door” and the suggestion that a redeclaration at this time would be advantageous.

He said that he had heard from his Government and that they did not wish to do anything to affect the status quo in China and that it would be hard to explain to the Japanese people why a declaration was made at this time if the suggestion was adopted.

I told him that he must realize that in the present state of the world Japan and the United States were the only countries which could furnish money for the development of China’s vast resources; that, if we permitted the gradual restoration of the policy of “spheres of influence”, which seemed to be going on, the Allied Governments would look upon us as seeking to monopolize the opportunities; and that it seemed to me that we should unite in every possible way to dispel the impression that we would selfishly seek to take advantage of their wasted condition and build up our own fortunes without thought of those who were fighting the battles of this country and of Japan, as well as their own battles. I said that I thought this was a time when Japan and the United States ought to show a magnanimous spirit and say to them, “We will not take advantage of your calamities as we might do. We will seek no special privileges in China. When this [Page 436] war is over and you begin to rebuild your fortunes by commerce and trade, you will find the markets of China and the opportunities in that land as open and free to you as they are to us.” If we redeclared the “Open Door” policy, I told him that is what it would mean, and I asked him if it was not worth while to gain the gratitude and confidence of the Allies by an announcement of our purpose to be generous and unselfish in this time when the future must look so dark to them.

The Viscount said that he appreciated all this and that he also realized what I had said before about Japan being the chief beneficiary from the “Open Door” which was manifestly true, but that the Japanese people would be likely to blame the Government if there was nothing said about Japan’s “special interest” in China, that the opposition in the Diet would seize upon such an opportunity to attack the Ministry for making a needless declaration, while getting nothing for Japan.

I said to him that if he meant by “special interest” “paramount interest”, I could not see my way clear to discuss the matter further; but, if he meant a special interest based upon geographical position, I was not unwilling to take the matter into consideration. I said further that I appreciated his difficulty which pertained to the political situation in Japan and would try and find some formula to satisfy the wishes of his people in case a redeclaration of the “Open Door” policy could be agreed upon in principle.

The Viscount said that he wished I would prepare such a formula first for his consideration and I told him that I would. He seemed to be much impressed with the idea that to redeclare the “Open Door” at this time would be accepted as a generous act by the Allies and strengthen the bond of friendship and confidence between the powers and Japan. He also said that he was convinced that Japan on account of its proximity to China would be especially benefited by a continuance of the “Open Door” policy, and that the only difficulty of the proposed redeclaration was that it might not appeal to the Japanese public and be used as a pretext to attack the Government.

In this conversation I also said to him that there seemed to be a misconception of the underlying principle of the “Monroe Doctrine”; that it was not an assertion of primacy or of paramount interest by the United States in its relation to other American Republics; that its purpose was to prevent foreign powers from interfering with the sovereign rights of any nation in this hemisphere; and that the whole aim was to preserve to each republic the power of self-development. I said further that so far as aiding in this development this country was on an equal footing with all other countries and claimed no special privileges.

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As for China I said that I felt that the same principle should be applied and that no special privileges and certainly no paramount interest in that country should be claimed by any foreign power. I also said that I appreciated the pressure of population in Japan and the need for industrial expansion, and that I believed that Japan had occupied Korea and was developing Manchuria chiefly because of this unavoidable necessity.

The Special Ambassador spoke of Manchuria and said that his country desired the “Open Door” policy to be applied there, that his Government sought no monopoly there, and that even if China was willing to cede the territory to Japan, Japan would not accept it.

I told him that I was glad to hear this frank declaration and I hoped that his view of the application of the “Open Door” policy was the same as mine. My view was that in China foreign commerce and trade should be entirely unhampered. He replied that was his view. I then said that I felt that when a railroad or canal was built in China by the nationals of one country special rates or other privileges should not be given to citizens of that country engaged in trade or industry in China, but that the citizens of all countries should receive identical treatment. The Ambassador assented to this with some hesitation, and seemed desirous to avoid a discussion of the application of the principle of the “Open Door”,

We discussed other subjects, but they were of minor importance.